Abbas: No preconditions for talks, but settlement construction must cease
Following meeting with Mubarak, Palestinian president says, 'We do not object to resuming negotiations with the Israelis, but West Bank construction must stop. Palestinian sources: We demand US guarantee that talks will end with independent state. PM Netanyahu: I sense change in atmosphere
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas met on Monday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for talks on relaunching peace negotiations with Israel.
Following the meeting, held at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Abbas called for a complete halt to Israeli settlement construction in order to reignite the peace process.
"We are interested in negotiations, we do not object to resuming the meetings with the Israelis and we are not setting any preconditions, but at the same time in order for us to return (to the negotiation table) – there must be a halt to settlement building and recognition of the peace process' principles," said the Palestinian leader.
"Our stand is known from the past and our stand remains the same -- and in agreement with our brothers in Egypt -- which is that we have no objections on negotiations or meetings in principle and we do not set conditions," Abbas said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Likud faction meeting Monday that "since the instatement of the government I have been calling for a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians with no preconditions.
"I have sensed a certain change of atmosphere in the recent weeks. I hope that we have reached maturation in jumpstarting the political process. I want to make it clear: My positions haven't changed," he said.
Abbas arrived on Sunday and met with Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman before heading to Sharm el-Sheikh. He will later travel to Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey.
Suleiman and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit are expected to visit Washington soon for a series of meetings ahead of US special Mideast envoy George Mitchell's scheduled visit to the region.
While in the Middle East Mitchell is expected to announce the resumption of the peace negotiations.
The Palestinians hope the talks will pick up from where they left off during former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's term. Abbas stressed that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the status of Jerusalem must be an integral part of the negotiations and any final status agreement.
'Open and honest dialogue'
Palestinian sources told Ynet that the Palestinian Authority has agreed to resume talks on condition that the Americans clarify the settlement issue to Israel and guarantee that the process will end with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the July 4, 1967 borders.
"True, there is talk of a land swap, but first Israel should realize that the process must end with borders that are recognized by the international community and that (settlement construction) cannot affect the process," one of the sources said.
According to the sources, should Israel agree to debate the core issues, including Jerusalem, Arab leaders will convene in March to declare their support for the peace process.
Abbas' visit to Egypt comes almost a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Mubarak in Cairo about the stalled peace process and as diplomats said Washington was drafting letters of guarantee for the peace talks.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday following his meeting with Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair in Jerusalem that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on permanent borders cannot be reached within nine months and that the goal of reaching a final status agreement within two years is "unrealistic."
Lieberman added that "it's important to hold an open and honest dialogue with the Palestinians without putting forward unfounded illusions which end up creating frustration that leads to violence."
Roni Sofer, Amnon Meranda, Attila Somfalvi and AFP contributed to the report